When The Trade happened and the Paul Pierce era ended, we were left with an unbalanced roster. When Danny Ainge followed up that trade by buying a pick in the 2nd round to draft Colton Iverson, signing undrafted free agent Phil Pressey, and adding Brazilian center Vitor Faverani, it ballooned the Celtics roster and pushed the payroll north of the estimated Luxury Tax line. Something had to give.
Like many, I was hoping for some kind of trade that would either offload long term contracts or bring back something of value while shaving enough money off the cap for this year to avoid the luxury tax. I imagine that Danny Ainge looked long and hard for options that would be beneficial to the Celtics short and long term plans.
Unfortunately it seems that nothing could be accomplished on that front. So to cut costs, the Celtics first had to cut the hard working Shavlik Randolph. Now they've made a trade to send Fab Melo (a first round pick just a year ago) in exchange for a guy (Donte Greene) that they are likely going to cut.
So what's next? Is there another shoe that's going to drop? Perhaps, but then again, maybe not. At least not right away.
The Celtics have made it clear they don't desire to be in the luxury tax this season and were about $800,000 over that line before this move. They are still about $500,000 over with Greene on the roster, but can dip below at any point by waiving his nonguaranteed deal. The move suggests to me that the Celtics are not entirely confident they can move some of their bigger-ticket big men and made a smaller move to ensure they have the financial flexibility to avoid the tax (and the repeater rates that loom down the road when Boston hopes to be a contender again). More moves could loom, but it appears it might be in-season shuffling.
Some things to keep in mind.
1. Donte Green still has an outside shot at making the Celtics.
While unlikely, it's possible that Greene could show enough in training camp to stick around as an end-of-the-rotation three/four type behind the likes of Jared Sullinger, Jeff Green, Brandon Bass and Gerald Wallace. He's always been a tantalizing prospect due to his combination of size (6-foot-11) and shooting touch (he shot 37.7 percent from deep in 76 appearances, including 50 starts, for the 2009-10 Sacramento Kings as a 21-year-old), but he's always graded out as a poor rebounder for his size and position, and as an inconsistent defender despite physical tools that would seem to make him an ideal fit to guard multiple positions.
If the Celtics made another deal that cut costs, they could hang onto Greene and see if he could develop to be a better prospect than Fab Melo. They don't really have to make a decision any time soon. If I understand the rule correctly, the luxury tax is calculated on the roster payroll at the end of the year, and the last chance the team has to shed salaries is at or around the trade deadline.
The Celtics have the maximum 15 players on contract, so they can just roll into the season with that many players. Since Greene's contract isn't guaranteed, they can waive him at any point to cut costs or to open up a roster spot.
2. The Celtics can't combine Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, or MarShon Brooks in a trade with other players until September 12. They also can't trade Keith Bogans in a trade until December 15.
So for example, if the Celtics wanted to package the expiring contracts of Kris Humphries and Jordan Crawford to a team looking to offload someone making $16M or so, that deal would have to wait another month at least. I'm guessing that no deal like that is out there, but you never know. Don't forget that James Harden was traded to Houston right at the start of the season. The Rockets were able to pounce because they had the assets to get a deal done.
That's what Ainge is trying to do. Put himself in position to make a move if opportunity knocks. These small transactions and staying under the luxury tax are all designed to maintain flexibility. Between the draft picks, expiring contracts, and a nice traded player exception, the Celtics have the firepower to recreate the kind of megadeals that kicked off the last era back in 2007.
With that said, I feel like the larger trades and franchise altering moves will have to wait until the trade deadline at the earliest and more likely next offseason (or even later, depending on the team's patience and threshold of pain). If the Celtics end up losing as many games as the experts (and me) think, then this could be a long year for fans. But knowing that there's a plan (or more likely several contingency plans) is comforting at least.